For Barneys, the End of an Era. We Say Goodbye to Julie Gilhart and Judy Collinson.

Judy Collinson with Julie Gilhart Photo Credit: Ragozzino/PatrickMcMullan.com

This week, we saw the end of an era as we said good-bye to two fashion giants and champions of independent designers. It was just announced that Barneys has lost Julie Gilhart, the fashion director and Judy Collinson, the general merchandising manager for women’s fashion. According to a post in the New York Times On the Runway fashion blog, Maria Borromeo, a former buying assistant at Barneys who is now the chief executive of Thakoon, says, “I think Barneys’ DNA is going to change.”

If you are unfamiliar with the work of these women or unaware of the bigger-picture significance of this decision, let us tell you a little more about these two and what they represent.

The taste and aesthetic sensibilities of Judy and Julie made Barneys the definition of cool. Both of these women have a knack for spotting talent, and they were not afraid to steer away from the mainstream. They stayed true to their own unique visions, and in doing so discovered and helped launch the lines of emerging designers-many of whom are household names because of their start at Barneys.

Julie Gilhart chose sustainable lines like Stella McCartney, Organic by John Patrick, Alabama Chanin, and others, before “green” became a movement and “sustainability” a trend.

Julie and Judy both believed in nurturing relationships with designers. Judy worked tirelessly on and off the sales floor to make sure that Barneys maintained its design integrity. Julie trekked to studios to see how designers worked and listen to their stories.  Together, they had the taste and style that created the look and feel that is Barneys.

As a fierce advocate for sustainable fashion, Julie Gilhart worked passionately to change the fashion industry. She was one of a team at Barneys who, in 2007, led the store’s green initiative by starting a “Have a Green Holiday” campaign. For every 22-carat gold necklace sold, the store planted 100 trees.

She is quoted as saying: “Green, eco, all those words—it’s just about being more conscious. [Take] somebody like Isabel Toledo, who’s doing everything in New York…and only buys fabric to order and knows exactly where everything is being done and pays fair wages and is doing everything in a very sustainable way, as much as possible. It’s not easy to be completely conscious in the way of sustainability and organic and eco… “(Credit: This quote was found in the blog of LA designer Heidi Merrick.)

She was asked to speak at the Fashion Summit in Copenhagen in 2009, at which time she spoke of our (designers, consumers, retailers) need to make the industry more sustainable. She said: “We need to work to make fashion consciously cool, yet not lose profitability.”

Ironically, profits are the reason why Barneys underwent such severe staffing changes.

According to the New York Times, “The recession forced retailers to become leaner and more competitive, in particular with online sales, and that urgency will be critical to Barneys’ cool.” We have been seeing this trend in online sales since the onset of the Internet, but it has particularly grown during this recession.

Americans can access high-end items at a fraction of the prices through sites like Gilt Groupe or Haute Look. However, if so-called luxury items are available all the time on these types of sites, why would anyone want to pay retail prices? We have been asking ourselves if, in some way, this type of shopping undervalues the designer and depreciates the brand name.  Perhaps we need to rethink our concept of luxury.

At Project Artisan, we have been doing just that. We’ve decided that true luxury means something that cannot be replicated or can only be made in small quantities. This is actually something that Julie Gilhart suggested in January of this year. Written in one of our favorite blogs, Ecouterre, is this quote that we couldn’t have said better ourselves:

“’People want things no one else has,’ Gilhart said, ‘even if it means moving away from marquee names like Lanvin and Chanel to some small guy no one’s ever heard of.’ Coming from someone who has direct insight into the wants of some of the world’s most influential consumers, her observation means that the old model of fast-fashion purveyors stealing looks straight from the runway and pages of Vogue is no longer attractive. ‘By the time it comes in the store, I’m so sick of it, I don’t want to look at it.’”

As sad as we are about this loss for Barneys, we look forward to seeing what comes next in the careers of these two women. We are curious to see if their successors stay true to the ideals Judy and Julie instilled. It is the end of an era for Barneys and for fashion, but hopefully a beautiful beginning of great things to come for both of these fashion influencers.


1 Response to “For Barneys, the End of an Era. We Say Goodbye to Julie Gilhart and Judy Collinson.”

  1. December 20, 2010 at 2:55 pm

    These two women seemed to have a strong sense of the fashion world. I’m sure that they both are retiring with worth-while experience and their own footprint on clothing style. It will be interesting to see other fashion designers inspired by their work.

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